1977 Wildland Fire Memorial
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Mr. Ted Jackson, 30th Range Management Squadron, plays "Amazing Grace" on his bag pipes during the 30th Anniversary Memorial Service of the Wildland Fire in front of Fire Station 2 on Dec. 21. The memorial was held to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the 1977 Wildland Fire here on Vandenberg AFB. Four Air Force members gave their lives during the fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Olds)
Ceremony remembers victims of Honda Canyon Fire

by Airman First Class Wesley Carter
30th Space Wing Public Affairs

1/10/2008 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.  -- "The worst thing, I think, is to be forgotten," said Mark Farias, a 30th Civil Engineer fire chief.

The chief went on to say that the service of Col. Joseph Turner, Chief Billy Bell, Assistant Chief Eugene Cooper and Fire Dozer Operator Clarence McCauley would not be forgotten but remembered. Chief Farias offered these words at Vandenberg's Fire Station two on Dec. 21 during a memorial for those killed in the Honda Canyon Fire which occurred on Dec. 20, 1977.

"I remember it being a very windy day," said Billy Bell Jr., son of deceased Fire Chief Bill Bell. "It seemed like the wind was blowing over 100 miles per hour."

The news on that day didn't come as unexpected as the fire.

"I actually heard a rumor early in the day that something tragic had happened at the base," Mr. Bell said. "It wasn't confirmed until around 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. that it was indeed my dad."

The memorial gave the Vandenberg community a chance to recognize the selfless sacrifice that firefighters go through is one that all should be proud to honor.

"It's really a thankless job in a lot of ways," said Mr. Bell. "We should do more to let them know how appreciative we are."

The ceremony offered many prayers, including the Fire Chief and Firefighters prayer, condolences, and memories for the fallen comrades.

Among messages of sacrifice and honor Chief Farias was sure to mention that these men did not die in vain.

"Since their death the training for wild land fires has increased tremendously," said Chief Farias. "The development of a "Wild Land Fire Academy", which all new firefighters attend, the development of a Fuels Management Program, the development of the Air Force's only Fire Dozer Team as well as the most aggressive and interactive Mutual Aid Agreements in the Department of Defense."

The death of these four individuals has spawned major renovations in the way that wild land fires are fought. There lives were lost so that many others could be saved. They did not question if it was worth it, they performed there duties without hesitation; the same duties that many Airmen continue to perform today. Their death is not a haunting memory, but should be seen as a real testimony of sacrifice.